‘For me, the very word “networking” puts me off,’ says Tamara Pitelen. ‘We wanted this to be more all-encompassing and about fun – not necessarily about your next career move.’ A few months ago Kiwi Pitelen and her friend, New Yorker Rachel Morton, decided they needed something more than business councils and women’s networking groups to meet new people in Dubai, and so started their own social group. Now it has more than 300 members.
Social Circles Dubai (SCD) is for people in their late twenties to early forties who are looking to make new friends in the emirate. Perhaps part of the group’s already rapid success is down to its online presence – with a Facebook group and its very own social networking website, www.socialcirclesdubai.com, it’s easier than ever to connect with like-minded people, and folk are breaking the ice and finding common ground before they’ve even met face to face. Our troubled economic times are also a factor. Redundancies mean that expats are saying goodbye to more and more of their friends, as job losses force people to return home. SCD helps those who are still here to find a new crowd.
While Pitelen herself isn’t interested in using the group for business purposes – ‘I just want to meet up and chat,’ she says – that’s not to say people can’t use SCD for that reason, especially considering the recession. ‘I was at a lunch the other day, and there were about 10 people at the lunch, four or five of whom had recently been made redundant,’ says Pitelen. ‘By the end of that lunch, people were going, “Oh hang on, I know somebody who’s in that field….” People were swapping business cards and helping each other out. So it’s definitely a factor.’
Louise Atack, a campaign executive who works in Al Quoz, joined SCD after a friend sent her an invite on Facebook. ‘I think they really hit the nail on the head with the whole recession/redundancy thing,’ she says. ‘Times are changing, a lot of friends have left or are leaving. I think you need a broad network of friends in a place like Dubai as people are always coming and going.’
Pitelen also credits SCD’s online presence with overcoming those barriers that usually exist between different cultural groups in Dubai. ‘I don’t think you can over emphasise the difference [online networking] makes. I’ve met people online who I might never have met in my normal life. It plugs you into far more areas.’ Pitelen also makes the point that you can meet new people online at any time, rather than physically having to make the time to go out. This means you can make new friends despite a busy schedule, and then make time to meet up with them later.
At the moment SCD is organising big group outings around Dubai, from going bowling to watching stand-up comedy and even en masse painting sessions. However, as well as setting up these larger events, Pitelen hopes to create more niche clusters within SCD for people with similar, niche interests. ‘One girl has already started up a drama group and I was talking to a lady the other day who wants to start a hypnotherapy awareness group,’ reveals Pitelen. You can search ‘groups’ on the SCD website to find out how this is progressing.
For Atack, the best thing about joining SCD has been discovering just how many people in Dubai are open to making new friends. ‘Dubai has the reputation of being very cliquey, so it’s refreshing to see that so many people are keen to expand their social networks,’ she says. ‘And hosting the club online makes the planning so much easier.’
In a city where it’s all too easy to see the same people and do the same things every day, such is the expat lifestyle, it sounds like SCD might just be worth a try. After all, you can never have too many friends, and it’s a great way to experience all the things Dubai has to offer. Why would Pitelen recommend people join? ‘Why wouldn’t you?’ she asks. ‘What have you to lose?’
See www.socialcirclesdubai.com for more information and to sign up.